Billions for defense budget, yet many military families go hungry

Two years later, those figures remain consistent at 15.3% experiencing food insecurity. When drilling down the numbers, the network confirmed the highest hunger rates were among active-duty members, veterans, and their families.

To put it into perspective, there are about 1.4 million active members of the U.S. military. Just 15% equates to 210,000 people, and as noted by Roll Call, “even if that figure were to be seen as overstated by a factor of 10,” that still means “20,000 servicemembers, not to mention dependents, have trouble putting food on the table.”

Notably, the study confirmed that anyone with a lower rank in the military was more likely to experience hunger.

“There was also a subtle statistically significant relationship between those who had considered suicide in the past two years and experiencing food insecurity. A subtle positive correlation was also found between food insecurity and loneliness, as measured by the USDA Six-item Short Form Food Security Scale and the UCLA Loneliness Scale; this simply means that there was a connection between the two measures, with those respondents who had higher rates of food insecurity also having higher rates of loneliness,” the report found.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit cash-strapped families nationwide hard, and the military was no exception. At the pandemic’s start, studies showed 1 in 8 military families were “food insecure,” and since then, the rate has increased to 1 in 5, a 2021 survey found.

Leading the nation in the highest rates of food insecurity among the U.S. military is Texas, Virginia, California, North Carolina, Washington, Florida, and New York.

And when it comes to military families with young children, over a quarter of all respondents said their children receive free or reduced meals at school.

Forced to go to food pantries or lean on family members for help, when service members are not applying for government-backed food assistance programs like WIC or SNAP, a whopping 47% surveyed said “they either just did not eat or gave their children and spouses the food and ate what was left,” the study found.

They also reduced portions or bought cheaper, less nutritious food.

“They ate what they could find, or they engaged in hunger avoidance behaviors, like eating ice, drinking water, or chewing gum,” the report noted.

Currently, legislation in the House and Senate to address these deficiencies has languished. A bill in the Senate, which would cost about $1 million annually, would give just 500 families about $200 a month. Another bill sponsored in the House of Representatives would provide 3,000 families about $400 a month. The House-backed bill would cost about $14 million annually, the Congressional Budget Office reports.

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has asked the Pentagon to compile two studies of its own on the ongoing hunger crisis in the military. One report will consider how the U.S. can head off the worst ripple effects from disasters like a pandemic, while the other report will specifically assess the use of food benefits by service members.

But soldiers and veterans and their families can’t eat reports and significantly, congress already asked the Defense Department to produce an assessment more than a year ago.  

A representative for the Senate Appropriations Committee did not immediately respond to a request inquiring as to why these delays around assistance to service members have persisted.

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